Freda’s Garden


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


Edible Garden


California Natives


Drip Irrigation


Pesticide Free


Rainwater Harvesting System


Sheet Mulching


Smart Irrigation Controller


Lawn Conversion


Lawn-Free Landscaping

Partner: Santa Rosa Water

The installation of our garden was made possible in part by the “Cash for Grass” program by Santa Rosa Water, which provided funding for the removal of our lawn and the transformation of our landscape. Using a sod cutter, we removed the lawn and repurposed the strips of sod to build planting mounds, minimizing waste and maximizing resourcefulness. Any remnants of Bermuda grass were meticulously hand-weeded, ensuring its eradication from our garden forever. Following this initial groundwork, we implemented sheet mulching across the entire 1000 square feet, allowing the soil to regenerate undisturbed for four months before the installation of drip irrigation, flagstone pathways, plants, and a fountain.

To further enhance our water conservation efforts, we installed fourteen 50-gallon rain barrels on the east side of our house in 2018. This collected rainwater is utilized throughout the dry season to maintain the fountain and deeply soak our Tangerine tree, minimizing our reliance on municipal water sources.

Maintenance of the garden is carried out seasonally, with three or four visits per year. Spent flowers are often left standing to provide shelter and nesting sites for birds and insects, while the heaviest pruning and clean-up occur in late winter. Regular checks are conducted on the drip irrigation system to ensure efficiency, with mulch periodically topped up to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Over time, our garden has flourished, serving as a vital habitat for birds and insects while providing seasonal beauty for human enjoyment. During dry years, the fountain may be deactivated to minimize water loss through evaporation, but excess clean household water is repurposed to provide a source of hydration for wildlife. When the fountain is active, its gentle sounds act as a magnet for a diverse array of bird species, creating a captivating spectacle that enriches our connection with nature.

Garden facts:
Lawn removal + sheet mulching: October 2014
Hardscape installation and planting: February 2015
Rain barrel installation: Summer 2018
Size ~1000 sq ft
Water use in the summer ~500 gal/month

Plants in this Garden

Plant Picker
Manzanita bush

Arctostaphylos spp & cvs

Manzanita, 'Dr. Hurd'

Manzanitas vary from carpet-forming groundcovers to small trees. Manzanitas have varying shades of striking, reddish brown bark and can provide structure to a garden. These plants have evergreen foliage, small white-to-pink, urn-shaped blossoms in late winter to early spring, and then small fruits that resemble tiny apples.

Groundcovers: A. ‘Emerald Carpet’ (1’ x 3-6’), A. ‘Pacific Mist’ (2-3’ x 6-8’), A. nummularia ‘Bear Belly’ (1’ x 3’), A. uva ursi ‘Radiant’ (6” x 4-6’), A. uva ursi ‘Wood’s Compct’ (1’ x 3’).

Shrubs: A. ‘Howard McMinn’ (5-7’ x 6-10’), A. ‘John Dourly’ (3-4’ x 5-6’), A. ‘Lester Rowntree’ (8-10’ x 10-15’), A. ‘Sunset‘ (5-7’), A. bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’ (8-10’), A. manzanita ‘Sentinel’ (6-8’ x 5’), A. hookeri ‘Wayside’ (3′ x 8′).

Trees: A. manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’ (10-15′)

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Zauschneria [Epilobium] spp

California Fuchsia

Group of highly variable, semi-evergreen subshrubs and herbaceous perennials distributed over a wide geographic area, including California. Epilobiums bloom in late summer with tubular flowers providing a food source for hummingbirds migrating south and are also attractive to bees and butterflies. Epilobiums range from low-growing groundcovers to upright plants of several feet. Flower colors include orange-red, white, pink, and salmon. Most can be pruned back in late autumn to maintain a more compact form and be rejuvenated for the following year.

Low-growing examples: E. ‘Schieffelin’s Choice’; E. canum ‘Calistoga’, a selection from Phil Van Soelen from California Flora Nursery from the Palisades east of Calistoga; E. canum ‘Cloverdale’, a selection from U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum from along the Russian River north of Cloverdale with exceptionally orange flowers; E. c. ‘Everett’s Choice’, E. c. ‘Summer Snow’ with white flowers, and E. septentrionale ‘Select Mattole’, a somewhat redder flowering selection that is more shade-tolerant.

Upright examples: E. c. ‘Bowman’s Hybrid’ (2-3’), E. c. ‘Catalina’ (3-4’), E. c. ‘Liz’s Choice’ (3’) selected by Milo Baker Chapter CNPS Fellow Liz Parsons, E. c. ‘Marin Pink’ (2’) with pink flowers.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained

Yucca spp


Evergreen shrubs and perennials that grow over much of North America and feature sword-shaped leaves. Yuccas typically produce flowers on tall stalks in spring. Some yuccas are stemless while others have trunks and grow to tree size.

Examples: Banana yucca (Y. baccata, 3-4’ x 4-5’) eventually forms a short trunk. Adam’s needle (Y. filamentosa, 2-3’ x 4’) has loose fibers at the edge of leaves. Others are Spanish dagger (Y. gloriosa, 10’ x 8’), beaked yucca (Y. rostrata, 12-15’), and our Lord’s candle (Y. whipplei, 2-4’ x 3-6’), native to Southern California and Baja California.

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Mimulus aurantiacus and hybrids

Sticky Monkey Flower

The orange, tubular flowers of sticky monkey flower can be enjoyed in many locations throughout Sonoma and Marin counties in spring and summer, a testament to how well this plant is adapted to hot and dry conditions. The slightly sticky leaves benefit from light pinching and pruning to maintain an attractive appearance and support for the beautiful flowers. Many hybrids provide color variation. Do not confuse this plant with the red-flowered scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis), an herbaceous riparian plant that requires regular water to thrive.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Sandy

Iris douglasiana & cvs

Douglas Iris, Pacific Coast Hybrids

Iris are a large and diverse group of perennials that grow from either bulbs or rhizomes. The California native Douglas iris and cultivars known as Pacific Coast Hybrids are an excellent choice for summer-dry gardens and understory plantings. Fall rain brings new growth in the form of thin, upright leaves, followed in late winter to early spring by the first blossoms. Douglas iris commonly ranges in color from lavender to purple, but cultivars are available in a range of colors including white and yellow. Established plantings can be lifted and divided after the first significant fall rain and either replanted or put into containers to share with others.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Partial ShadeShade
  • Soil: Most Soils
blue grama grass

Bouteloua gracilis

Blue Grama Grass

North American native, warm-season bunchgrass with narrow, grayish green leaves. Ornamental flowers like small brushes form at right angles to slender stems during the summer and persist for many months. Blue grama is adapted to heat, drought, cold, and foot traffic. It does not thrive in shade or wet soils. Blue grama can be used in small clumps among other plants, in a mass as part of a meadow, or even as a lawn substitute. B. g. ‘Blonde Ambition’ is a popular and robust cultivar.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
close up of yellow and red gooseberries

Ribes spp

Currant, Gooseberry

Currants (without spines) and gooseberries (with spines) are grown for their graceful growth habit, attractive foliage, wonderful displays of pendulous flowers in winter-spring that are attractive to hummingbirds, and colorful fruit that provides a food source for birds. Most of the species listed are deciduous, going dormant in the summer months.

Examples: Some of the species suitable for California gardens, preferably with partial shade, are native to the Western United States:

  • aurem, golden currant (5-10’ x 3-6’), deciduous with small clusters of delicate yellow flowers and sprawling habit.
  • malvaceum, chaparral currant (4-8’ x 4-6’), deciduous with early clusters of pink flowers, a slightly vase-shaped habit, and more drought-tolerant than most species.
  • sanguineum var. glutinosum, pink-flowering currant (5-12’ x 5-12’), deciduous with maple-like leaves, a vase-shaped habit, and long pendulous clusters of pink, reddish, or white flowers in the spring; many available cultivars such as ‘Claremont’, ‘Tranquillon Ridge’, and ‘White Icicle’.
  • speciosum, fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (4-8’ x 6-10’), deciduous with spiny, arching stems and bright red fuchsia-like flowers along the stems in the spring that are attractive to hummingbirds.
  • viburnifolium, evergreen currant or Catalina perfume (2-4’ x 5-7’), evergreen groundcover that works well under oaks and can provide erosion control to slopes.
  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial ShadeShade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Sambucus spp


Fast-growing shrubs and small trees for sun or part shade that attract pollinators from far and wide to large clusters of cream flowers in spring, followed by berries in summer that provide food to many types of birds. Fruit can also be used for culinary purposes. While naturally fairly wild-looking, elderberries can handle being cut back to the ground in the winter or pruned to maintain size and shape.


  • Blue elderberry (S. mexicana [nigra] spp. caerulea, 8-25’) is native from Oregon to Baja California and beyond.
  • Black elderberry (S. nigra, 20-30’) is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and is available in nurseries in the form of many named cultivars. Cut leaf black elderberry (S. n. ‘Black Lace’, 8’ x 8’) has intense dark, fine foliage. Cut leaf elderberry (S. n. ‘Laciniata’, 10’ x 10’) has green leaves, and variegated black elderberry (S. n. ‘Marginata’, 6-12’) has variegated leaves.
  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
Asclepias fascicularis white and pink flower

Asclepias spp


Colony-forming, herbaceous perennials with several species providing important habitat and larval food sources for the monarch butterfly while attracting a diverse array of insects.

California milkweeds remain dormant during the colder months. Stems that emerge in April or May bear clusters of small, star-like flowers in summer followed by silky-tailed seeds that are dispersed by wind. A. fascicularis (narrow-leaved milkweed, 1-3’) is the preferred food source for monarch larvae. A. speciosa (showy milkweed, 2-4’) has larger, soft foliage, showier flower clusters, and is also a food source for monarch larvae. A. cordifolia (heart leaf milkweed, 1-2′) has heart-shaped leaves and is also a food source for monarch larvae.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils

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